Voices Of Innovation: Tim Berners-Lee

The London-born inventor of the World Wide Web is now at Massachusetts Institute of Technology working to create the new Semantic Web, a radical leap that would greatly improve how people and machines locate and use data on the Web.

The Semantic Web is meant to add levels of meaning to online information. Tell us about that.

The Semantic Web is a space for data. Currently, there is a huge amount of data in databases, in spreadsheets, and in application files like calendars, photos, and so on. Some of this data is available to people viewing the Web through a browser, but it can't be used by other applications, and it can't be accessed as data.

The Semantic Web is about breaking down the barriers between data in different applications and different enterprises. It works by describing the real things -- people, products, events, and so on -- and then explaining to the computer how the data relate to those things. This provides the links between systems. It is a very decentralized system -- a tangle of weblike links, not a top-down design.

When you're looking at a major innovation challenge, like finding new drugs, or finding a cure for AIDS or cancer -- these involve so much data from so many different fields that we're going to need the Semantic Web before we can crack the problems.

How close are we to the realization of that vision?

It is happening now in certain areas. But I sense it will be 5 to 10 years before we get to the state, like with the Web now, where you can assume most information is available in data form and you're shocked if it's not.

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